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Shooting Mark DiCesare: Did he have a gun? Or was it murder?

Manitoba's shiny new office to investigate police shootings has failed its first major test.

When 24-year-old Mark DiCesare was surrounded by a veritable army of gun-toting police officers and blasted to eternity in an empty field in River Heights, the public wanted an answer to one, and only one, question.

One. Count 'em. One.

Did he have a gun?

That's it.

That's what everybody who heard the shocking news wanted to know. Did he have a gun? Once people knew the answer to that simple question, they could debate the need to shoot but at the same time would let the investigation take its course.

"A police source" told the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, Nov. 6, the day DiCesare was killed by Winnipeg police, that he did have a gun.

And CJOB reported that "Brendan", who goes by one name like Madonna, also saw DiCesare with a gun, a "large" one.

Yet, since the day police unloaded their deadly weapons, they've been strangely reticent when it comes to discussing a gun in the possession of the man they killed.

Deputy Chief Danny Smyth held a news conference Saturday where he obliquely said that DiCesare was shot by five Winnipeg police officers.

 “Five officers have been identified as directly involved officers. What that means is that they were involved in the lethal-force encounter at the standoff in the field,” he said, hiding his meaning behind as much bafflegab as he could.

But, according to the Winnipeg Sun, "Although witnesses say they saw Dicesare waving a gun, Smyth could not confirm that either."

The Winnipeg Free Press put it more succinctly:

"Smyth would not say how many shots were fired in total or whether a gun was seen by officers before or during the confrontation because it is part of the IIU investigation."

And Zane Tessler, executive director of the bravely-named Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, cautioned the public not to expect quick answers. 

"There is a fine balance between the desire for expediency and the expectation for thoroughness," he said. 

In short, I've got nothing to say about a gun.

Which is extremely troubling.

For, you see, the last time police killed a man, in September, not so long ago, Tessler,  a former Crown attorney, tried the same stonewall tactic. But less than 24 hours later, he changed his mind.

As reported by CBC:

Shooting happened about 10:30 p.m. Sunday near intersection of Highway 59 and Kirkness
CBC News Posted: Sep 21, 2015 4:56 AM
"[Officers] conducted a stop of that vehicle and then dealt with the occupant," said Tessler. "Moments later officers were required to use their service weapons and discharge their firearms … [I] can't confirm whether or not the driver of the van did have a weapon on his person."
Tessler later clarified a weapon that didn't belong to police was found at the scene, but he could not confirm if it had been fired.

So, in September, Tessler quickly confirmed that the man killed by police had a gun in his possession, regardless of how convolutedly he tried to phrase it. He flip-flopped probably because news photos showed the gun on the highway near the scene of the shooting.

Now, four days after the fact, Tessler tries to dampen discussion about a gun. That's not good. In fact, that's very, very bad.

Because that's starting to look like there was no gun. And if Mark DiCesare had no gun, then five Winnipeg police officers should now be under investigation for second degree murder.

Tessler is not a Crown attorney any longer. If he has evidence that five Winnipeg police officer shot an unarmed man to death in an empty field he has to turn the matter over to the provincial prosecutions branch. The five must then be treated like murder suspects and read their rights, not given a group hug by police and IIU officials.

Everything about this case reeks. 39 police cars involved in a car chase?  When was the last time you heard of 39 police cars chasing a suspect in Winnipeg. Start with NEVER.

And why were they chasing him?  The story has mutated almost daily.

* Friday night CTV reported the chase started as the result of a tip.
* Then it became a female driver who saw a man in a car waving a gun.
* Then the female driver became a female police officer whose attention was drawn to erratic driving.
* Then it was a man sticking his head out of the sun roof on his car and brandishing a large gun. (If he had his head out the sunroof, does that mean his was driving standing up, steering with his knees, maybe?)
* Then it became a female police officer who noticed unexplained "erratic behaviour."

There's no question that there was a police chase. Two, actually, given that the driver of the Audi lost police the first time they tried to stop him.

The car wound up in an empty field. It would take one second to see whether the car actually drove over a spike belt.

News photos show the car was boxed in tight. The driver couldn't go forward or backward, and couldn't get out the driver's side door as police vehicles blocked him everywhere. His only egress was out the right passenger door, into the killing zone, a small box of empty space zeroed in by armed police.

Then  there was a lengthy lull, estimated at 20 to 30 minutes by witnesses, more than enough time to bring in a police dog.

"It ended when Mr. DiCesare took action and officers responded with lethal force." said Deputy Chief Danny Smyth, whateve that means.

We don't know what DiCesare did. We know what police did. 

At least five officers fired a volley of shots. You can count 12 in DiCesare's car. Two shots blew out the window of a police car.One shot went through DiCesare's car windows and wound up who knows where. How many 40-calibre bullets hit DiCesare we don't know.

This wasn't in an alley in the dark of night. It wasn't in a scary dark rooming house. The shooting took place in broad daylight in the early afternoon.

It happened at least 20 minutes after the end of a wild police chase straight out of the Blues Brothers movie. 

The suspect wasn't threatening anybody; he was in an empty field. He wasn't going anywhere; he was surrounded by more than a dozen police cars and at least 25 armed police officers, one step in any direction and he would have been tackled by a dozen uniformed men, and maybe women. 

Even  if he pulled a gun, he would have been instantly shot be police behind and to his side. 

If he had a gun.

If he didn't, we're looking at potentially the worst police scandal since the murder of Paul Clear in 1981 by two active-duty policemen. 

The public demands an answer to a simple question, not systemic stonewalling by the police department and their alleged watchdog.

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